Gifts, Voices, Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published: Graphia (2005), Paperback, 1176pg
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability–with a glance, a gesture, a word–to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.
In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world’s darkness, gifts of light.
Ansul, once a beautiful, peaceful city of traders and scholars, was conquered seventeen years ago by the Alds—men of the desert who believe reading and writing to be evil acts, punishable by death. They also believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is a blessed refuge, a place of family and learning, ritual and memory—the only place where she feels truly safe.
Then one day a poet named Orrec and his wife Gry arrive, and everything in Memer’s life begins to change. Will she, her family, and the people of Ansul find the power and the courage to rebel against their oppressors?
Young Gav can remember the page of a book after seeing it once, and, inexplicably, he sometimes "remembers" things that are going to happen in the future. As a loyal slave, he must keep these powers secret, but when a terrible tragedy occurs, Gav, blinded by grief, flees the only world he has ever known.
In what becomes a treacherous journey for freedom, Gav's greatest test of all is facing his powers so that he can come to understand himself and finally find a true home.
Having now read the whole trilogy (instead of just the second book), I can see the overarching theme(s) of the series more clearly, which is kind of neat. Basically I think it’s about how freedom is gained through knowledge and learning and the sharing of knowledge with other people? Also the power of love, etc. Yay!
Other good points: the protagonists for at least two of the books are PoC, the world-building with magic and psychic powers and whatnot is really neat, each book is a different shade of speculative fantasy thingy (the first book, for instance, is very Southern gothic to me despite not technically being anything South-related and not overly horror-ish either), and the women characters are especially well-rounded people.
On the other hand, the bad guys (in the second book at least) are monotheistic desert-dwellers who hate women and books and most other things except themselves. That sort of villian is pretty prevalent in recent fantasy books, and I’m getting tired of it.1 I guess because people who read books mostly love them (duh), and people who WRITE books must love books EVEN MORE, so the idea of a villian who deliberate destroys that thing that we love is especially potent and scary and so on.
And recent world events of course play a large part on deciding these sorts of things, too.2 On the other hand, it’s also getting really BORING. It reminds me of of how all those books/movies from the 1940s-1950s or so all had actual Nazi or Nazi-like baddies and everything was a Nazi conspiracy or something. Yeah, I get WHY they all had Nazi baddies, but c’mon. Do something new once in a while?
Basically, after reading this series, I kind of…don’t want to read any more UKLG books. MAYBE the Earthsea books, because of how it’s a fantasy series with non-white protagonists, but that probably won’t be for a while. It’s not just because I’m annoyed with the desert-dweller villains; on the whole I was just underwhelmed with the stories and characters.
When I read Voices by itself I thought it was awesome; as part of a bigger picture it just leaves me wondering wtf went wrong. They’re not bad books, and I kind of think I’d have liked them more if I’d first read them when I was younger, but neither are they fantastic and wonderful beyond anything else I’m read. They don’t make me want to run out and read everything else UKLG’s written. I don’t even particularly want to keep writing this review, because I’m getting bored just thinking about continuing it.
On the other hand, that’s sort of like saying I don’t want to read/see/whatever any more Shakespeare plays because I didn’t like Romeo & Juliet and isn’t that silly! How about this: for NOW, I’m not interested in reading more UKLG. In the future? Sure, I’d read another of her books.
Final verdict: not my favorite books, but they’re not horrible. I’m tired of the book-hating desert villains, and not even well-rounded and interesting protagonists can help that. The world is interesting, but more maybe needed to be done with it. If you’ve never read an UKLG book before, start with something else.
Read: September 23-24, 2012
I really love the covers for these books, btw! ESPECIALLY THE SECOND ONE.